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What is the Difference Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Communications?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

Synchronous and asynchronous are terms used to describe when and how individuals communicate. The critical difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication is that synchronous communications are scheduled, real-time interactions. Asynchronous communications happen independently and don’t need scheduling.

This article explores the differences between each and how they can be utilized in a healthcare context.

asynchronous and synchronous communications

Synchronous Communications

Synchronous communications happen in real-time between two or more people. Examples of synchronous communications include in-person meetings, videoconferencing, phone calls, or other types of interactions where an immediate response is expected.

In a health care context, this face-to-face time is precious and can be hard to schedule. Unless seeking acute care at an emergency department or urgent care facility, it is not easy to have same-day synchronous communications with a care provider. Telehealth live video appointments are also considered synchronous.

Asynchronous Communications

Alternatively, asynchronous communications are interactions without real-time conversation. The replies to asynchronous messages are delayed and happen on the participants’ schedules. Email, texting, patient portal messaging, video libraries, or other online wikis are considered asynchronous communications.

Asynchronous communications are becoming more popular among patients and healthcare providers. The advent of patient portals with secure messaging capabilities allows for non-urgent communications to be sent securely and answered on time.

Which is better for healthcare communications?

It depends on the context. Synchronous communications are always better for urgent scenarios. If a sick child exhibits flu-like symptoms, it makes sense to use synchronous communication channels to contact their pediatrician.

However, asynchronous communications are an excellent option for most administrative healthcare interactions. Questions about billing, appointment scheduling, referrals, prescription refills, etc., are not urgent and most often do not require a face-to-face interaction.

Some non-urgent medical questions can also be addressed through asynchronous communications. For example, if a patient has a rash or insect bite, they can upload an image of the rash to a patient portal where a clinician can diagnose and recommend a treatment remotely. Of course, the question may not be answered immediately, but it could be a good option for diagnosing and treating minor skin conditions and irritations.

Improving the Patient and Clinician Experience

In fact, cutting down the number of synchronous communications can help improve both the clinician and patient experience. On the clinician’s side, constant interruptions by phone calls or live video chats can be detrimental to productivity and increase stress. By encouraging asynchronous communications for non-critical issues, clinicians can block off time to respond to messages. They can also take time to deliver thorough responses instead of rushing or being unprepared for conversations.

From the patient’s perspective, asynchronous communication can often offer a better experience. Almost everyone has called their doctor’s office and been put on hold for extended periods. It is frustrating, can take a lot of time out of a workday, and often doesn’t deliver an adequate response. Instead, patients can send a message and be confident that it will be addressed by the right staff member promptly. Asynchronous communications also tend to be more transparent. Patients can reference messages later because they are logged in chat portals or email chains.

Conclusion

Organizations should look at ways to incorporate more asynchronous communications into their workflows. Relieving the administrative burden on staff and freeing up phone lines helps improve employee satisfaction and allows them to focus on what matters- providing a high quality of patient care.

Using Technology to Address Clinician Burnout

Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges with clinician burnout were impacting the healthcare system. A 2019 British Medical Association (BMA) survey found 80% of doctors were at high or very high risk of burnout.

Enter the pandemic: staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and new regulations all contributed to an increase in clinician burnout over the last two years. This is a major issue- burned out clinicians make more mistakes and have less satisfied patients. In this article, we discuss ways to use technology to address burnout and improve workflows.

clinician burnout

Causes of Clinician Burnout

The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated just how fragile the healthcare workforce is. As COVID-19 swept across the country, front-line workers were under immense pressure to serve their patients in extremely stressful circumstances. In the early days of the pandemic, the lack of personal protective equipment required clinicians to put their lives on the line to care for patients. In addition, quarantines for COVID-19 exposure and family caretaking responsibilities drastically impacted staffing and patient-to-nurse levels. Healthcare workers often had no choice but to take on more shifts during highly stressful time periods to help patients get the care they deserve.

Even though the pandemic is winding down, clinicians are still experiencing the effects of burnout. Healthcare workers are leaving their jobs at high rates and in some cases leaving the field altogether. Workforce shortages, increasing stress, and clinical documentation requirements leave healthcare professionals increasingly burned out.

Ways to Alleviate Clinician Burnout with Digital Technology

Not only is burnout bad for health care providers, but it can also lead to mistakes and poor patient experiences. New technology can help alleviate burnout, but it is important to find a balance. Introducing new technologies without proper training or administration can increase stress and make things worse. EHRs are an example of a type of technology that is often a major cause of burnout. It is important to be thoughtful with any technology implementation.

Below, we discuss some ways to use technology to streamline and accelerate clinician workflows.

Reduce Administrative Burdens

New technology can help streamline administrative workflows. Let’s use an annual doctor’s appointment as an example. Upon arrival to an appointment, a patient fills out a paper form with their health conditions, medications, family history, and other information. It is collected by the front desk and the patient heads into the appointment, where they are often asked the same series of questions by the clinician, who hastily types the answers into the patient’s health record.

There is a better way to collect this information. By digitizing the patient intake form, the patient’s answers are automatically added to their health record, reducing administrative time. The clinician can spend more time providing health care, rather than filling out paperwork. Updating patient health records is one of the most time-consuming tasks that leads to burnout. By digitizing some of this paperwork, it reduces the administrative burden on clinicians.

Patient Education

Patient education is extremely important in a world of medical misinformation. However, it can also be a time-consuming process for front-line staff. Digitizing patient resources in the form of articles, videos, and PDFs is a convenient way to answer frequently asked questions.

Let’s use an example of a patient with a broken arm. They get a cast at the office and the doctor explains how to take care of it. However, when they get home and go to sleep, they wake up with an extremely itchy arm. They might be concerned and reach out to their healthcare provider. Instead interrupting the clinician’s day with a phone call, the administrative staff can email pre-produced videos or articles explaining how to treat the itching and what they should do if it becomes more severe.

By creating these materials in advance, it is easy for clinicians to rapidly answer questions. In addition, patients can have their issues addressed quickly and will have a better experience. They also may be less likely to turn to social media to crowdsource at-home remedies.

Patient Communication

On that note, anyone who has tried to get in touch with their doctor by making a phone call knows how time-consuming and tedious it can be. Instead, encourage asynchronous messaging for non-urgent medical issues. Asynchronous messaging, like secure email and texting, is not immediate and clinicians can respond to whenever is convenient. It is useful when requesting referrals and prescription refills.

Using a patient portal allows both doctors and administrators from the office to address the patient’s needs and distribute workflows in a way that makes sense. Although a patient may seek out a doctor, their issues may be more properly handled by a nurse or administrative staff.

Conclusion

Clinician burnout is a major issue impacting health systems and patient health outcomes. Tackling this challenge is a difficult task, but organizations should look into ways to use technology to improve and automate workflows.

5 Security Measures for Safe Patient Portals

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Many patients are apparently wary of embracing patient portals due to security concerns. Learn how you can reassure them about the safety.

No doubt, patient portals are highly effective in increasing patient engagement and optimizing treatment outcomes. But many patients tend to be reluctant in adopting this “new” tool as they are concerned about the security and privacy issues.

The safety concerns make a lot of sense considering how hackers are increasingly attacking health data. If your practice uses patient portals, it’s your responsibility to convince the patients that their sensitive information is in safe hands. How will you do that?

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